فصل 04

مجموعه: کارآگاه هرکول پوآرو / کتاب: قاتل های الفبا / فصل 4

فصل 04

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The Second Letter

‘Am I a magician? What do you want me to do? The police are doing everything they can. They will discover anything that can be discovered.’

In the days that followed, I found that Poirot was strangely unwilling to talk about the case. In my own mind, I was afraid that I knew the reason why.

Poirot hadn’t been able to solve the murder of Mrs Ascher. My friend was used to success and he found failure very difficult - so difficult that he didn’t even want to talk about it.

The crime received very little attention in the newspapers. There was nothing exciting or unusual about the murder of an old woman. The newspapers soon found more exciting subjects to write about.

I was beginning to forget about the matter when something new happened. I hadn’t seen Poirot for a couple of days as I had been away for the weekend. I arrived back on the Monday afternoon and the letter came by the six o’clock post. Poirot opened the envelope and breathed in deeply.

‘It has come,’ he said.

‘What has come?’

‘The second part of the ABC business. Read it,’ said Poirot, and passed me the letter.

As before, it was typed on good quality paper.

Dear Mr Poirot, Well, I won the first part of the game, I think. The Andover business went very well, didn’t it?

But the fun’s only just beginning. Watch what happens at Bexhill-on-Sea on the 25th of the month. What a great time we are having!

Yours, ABC

‘Does this mean this man is going to try and murder someone else?’ I said.

‘Naturally, Hastings. Did you think that the Andover business was going to be the only case? Do you not remember me saying, “This is the beginning”?’

‘But this is horrible! We’re facing a mad killer.’

The next morning there was a meeting of some powerful police officials. There was the Chief Constable of Suss@x, Inspector Glen from Andover, Superintendent Carter of the Suss@x police, Inspector Japp, a younger inspector called Crome, and also Dr Thomson, the famous specialist in illnesses of the mind. Everyone was sure that the two letters were written by the same person.

‘We’ve now got definite warning of a second crime which is going to take place on the 25th - the day after tomorrow - in Bexhill. What can we do to stop it?’ said the Suss@x Chief Constable. He looked at his superintendent.

The Superintendent shook his head. ‘It… difficult, sir. There’s not the smallest clue about who the victim will be. What can we do?’

‘I have a suggestion,’ said Poirot. ‘I think it is possible that the surname of the intended victim will begin with the letter B. When I got the letter naming Bexhill I thought it was possible that the victim as well as the place might be chosen in alphabetical order.

‘It’s possible,’ said the doctor. ‘On the other hand, it may be that the name Ascher was a coincidence. Remember that we are facing a madman. He hasn’t given us any clue about his motive.’

‘Does a madman have motives, sir?’ asked the Superintendent.

‘Of course he does,’ said the doctor.

‘I’ll keep a special watch on anyone connected with the Andover business,’ said Inspector Glen. Partridge and Riddell and, of course, Ascher himself. If they show any sign of leaving Andover, they’ll be followed.’

Later, Poirot and I walked along by the river.

‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘Surely this crime can be stopped?’

Poirot turned to me with a worried face. ‘Madness, Hastings, is a terrible thing… I am afraid… I am very much afraid…’

I still remember waking up on the morning of 25 July. It was about seven-thirty. Poirot was standing by my bedside, gently shaking me by the shoulder. I looked at his face and was awake at once.

“What is it?’ I asked, sitting up quickly.

‘It has happened,’ Poirot said.

‘What?’ I cried. ‘You mean - but today is the 25th.’

‘It took place last night - I mean, in the early hours of this morning.

I jumped out of bed and got dressed quickly. Poirot had just had a telephone call from Bexhill-on-Sea. He told me what had happened.

‘The body of a young girl has been found on the beach at Bexhill,’ he said. ‘She is Elizabeth Barnard, a waitress in one of the cafes. According to the medical examination, the time of death was between 11.30 p.m. and 1 a.m. An ABC open at the trains to Bexhill was found under the body.’

Twenty minutes later we were in a fast car crossing the Thames on our way out of London. Inspector Crome was with us. He was officially in charge of the case. Crome was a very different type of officer from Japp. He was much younger, and seemed to think that he was a better detective than Poirot.

If you want to ask me anything about the case, please do he said.

‘You have not, I suppose, a description of the dead girl asked Poirot.

‘She was twenty-three years old and was working as a waitress at the Orange Cat cafe -‘

‘Pas ca. I wondered - if she was pretty?’

‘I have no information about that,’ said Inspector Crome rather coldly.

A look of amusement came into Poirot’s eyes.

‘It does not seem to you important? But for a woman, it is very important!’

There was a short silence. Then Poirot opened the conversation again.

‘Were you informed how the girl was murdered?’

‘She was strangled with her own belt,’ replied Inspector Crome.

Poirot’s eyes opened very wide.

‘Ah!’ he said. At last we have a piece of information that is very definite. That tells one something, does it not?’

At Bexhill we were greeted by Superintendent Carter. With him was a pleasant-faced, intelligent-looking young inspector called Kelsey.

‘We’ve told the girl’s mother and father about her death,’ said the Superintendent. ‘It was a terrible shock to them, of course. There’s also a sister - a typist in London. We’ve communicated with her. And there’s a young man - in fact, the girl was supposed to be out with him last night.’

‘Any help from the ABC guide?’ asked Crome.

‘It’s there.’ The Superintendent nodded towards the table. ‘No fingerprints. It’s open at the page for Bexhill. It’s a new book, I think - it hasn’t been opened much. It wasn’t bought anywhere round here.’

‘Who discovered the body, sir?’

‘A retired army officer who was walking his dog at about 6 a.m.’

‘Well, sir, I’d better start the interviews, said Crome. ‘There’s the cafe and the girl’s home. I’d better go to both of them. Kelsey can come with me.’

‘And Mr Poirot?’ asked the Superintendent.

‘I will go with you,’ said Poirot to Crome.

Crome, I thought, looked a little annoyed.

We went to the Orange Cat, a small tearoom by the sea. It served coffee, tea and a few lunch dishes. Coffee was just being served. The manageress took us into a very untidy back room.

‘Miss - eh - Merrion?’ asked Crome.

‘That is my name’ said the manageress in a high voice. ‘This is a very upsetting business. Most upsetting.’

‘What can you tell me about the dead girl, Miss Merrion?’ asked Kelsey. ‘Had she worked here for a long time?’

‘This was the second summer. She was a good waitress.’

‘She was pretty, yes?’ asked Poirot.

‘She was a nice, clean-looking girl,’ replied Miss Merrion.

‘What time did she finish work last night?’ Poirot continued.

‘Eight o’clock. We close at eight.’

‘Did she tell you how she was going to spend the evening?’

‘Certainly not,’ said Miss Merrion. She looked shocked.

‘How many waitresses do you employ?’

‘Two normally, and an extra two from 20 July until the end of August. Miss Barnard was one of the regular waitresses.’

‘What about the other one?’

‘Miss Higley? She’s a very nice young lady.’

‘Perhaps we had better ask her some questions.’

‘I’ll send her to you,’ said Miss Merrion. ‘Please be as quick as possible. This is the busiest time for morning coffees.’

Miss Merrion left the room. A few minutes later a rather fat girl with dark hair and a pink face came in.

‘Miss Higley, asked the Inspector, ‘you knew Elizabeth Barnard?’

‘Oh, yes, I knew Betty. Isn’t it awful? Betty! Betty Barnard, murdered!’

‘You knew the dead girl well?’ asked Crome.

‘Well, she’s worked here longer than I have. I only came this March. She was here last year. She was rather quiet. She didn’t joke or laugh a lot.’

We learned that Betty Barnard had had a good looking, well-dressed ‘friend’ who worked in an office near the station. Miss Higley didn’t know his name, but she had seen him and she thought Miss Barnard had planned to meet him the night before. We talked to the other two girls in the cafe, but no one had noticed her in Bexhill during the evening.

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